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Revealing Platonic Life Partnerships: A Closer Look

I recently had a conversation with my friend and author, , regarding platonic life partners. In her upcoming book,, she explores narratives of individuals who opt to select a friend as a life partner rather than a romantic one. The following post is derived from our pre-book launch discussion.

I trust you will find this as engaging as I did our dialogue.

Dr. Marisa G. Franco (MF): What constitutes a platonic life partner?

Rhaina Cohen (RC): A platonic life partner involves individuals participating in activities typically linked with romantic partnerships, like constructing a life together and envisioning a shared future. This may encompass cohabitation, homeownership, child-rearing, and aging together. Those engaged in these relationships perceive themselves as a collective entity, viewing themselves as an inseparable “we.”

MF: Your book investigates the historical context of platonic life partners. Could you elaborate on that?

RC: Certainly. There exists a rich historical background, dating back to instances such as David and Jonathan in the Hebrew Bible, who established a covenantal friendship. I also delve into the concept of “sworn brotherhood,” originating in the fourth century, where monks formed alliances. This practice extended to lay individuals in the Byzantine Empire and later evolved into what were termed romantic friendships in England and France during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries—these were deeply intimate, expressive, same-sex friendships.

Interpreting these relationships can be complex due to varying cultural contexts. Some of these friendships might have contained elements of romance, with friendship serving as a facade. However, from my perspective on this history, these relationships often represented a distinctive interpretation of friendship, where profound affection did not necessarily entail desire. Overall, these friendships were marked by more intense emotions and dedication than what is commonly perceived as feasible today.

MF: What instigated the shift in perception, leading to a decreased acceptance of such partnerships?

RC: The introduction of terms like heterosexual and homosexual played a pivotal role. Prior to the 20th century, there was no distinct classification of being gay or straight, along with the associated stigma against same-sex attraction. Previously, it was socially acceptable, particularly among women, to express deep affection without it being automatically perceived as sexual. However, with the emergence of sexology around the turn of the 20th century, moral apprehensions regarding same-sex attraction intensified, resulting in a reduction of portrayals of intimate same-sex friendships in mainstream media.

Moreover, the evolving institution of marriage and shifting societal norms contributed to this phenomenon. In earlier centuries, marriage was not necessarily founded on finding a soulmate or love. Over time, as the significance of friendships waned, the institution of marriage expanded, with individuals anticipating more from marital relationships. By the late 20th century, the notion emerged that marriage would fulfill one’s self-realization, leaving minimal space for the intense emotions and commitments associated with friendships.

MF: Therefore, the surge in homophobia and societal transformations played a role in the decline of intimate friendships?

RC: Yes, I believe that was a significant factor, especially among men. I also think there was an overcorrection in response to a history of heteronormativity. For instance, I conversed with an individual who attended Wellesley College, an all-female institution, and they mentioned that while it was a notably queer-friendly environment, one unintended consequence was the challenge in forming close friendships because it was commonly assumed that two women in close proximity were in a romantic relationship. This unintended outcome, despite originating from open-mindedness, made it arduous for individuals to acknowledge that profound emotions can exist without a romantic undertone.


MF: It appears that establishing a distinct concept for platonic life partners is essential for acknowledgment. How can we promote this acknowledgment?

RC: Introducing this category is beneficial, but a broader transformation involves liberating individuals from rigid labels. Commencing from the individual rather than predefined roles or relationship categories is crucial. While my focus is on friendships, the same applies to other relationships, such as siblings. Embracing expansive thinking and pondering ideal companionship, living arrangements, and life orientation can lead to unique solutions beyond societal norms, such as contemplating— If you were designing your life from scratch, who would you choose to spend a significant amount of time with? Who would you consider raising a family with? How many individuals would you center your life around? Who would you prefer to reside with? Who truly understands you? Who would you like to be surrounded by?—this exploration could unveil diverse and intriguing perspectives on life.

Validating the potential of friends in these roles is beneficial, while fostering an open-minded approach to diverse relationship structures is equally crucial.

MF: It’s intriguing to ponder who brings you the most fulfillment without assuming that a romantic partner must fulfill that role.

RC: Indeed. It involves questioning one’s desires in life and exploring various possibilities. Preferences for ideal housing arrangements, relationships, and configurations can differ significantly among individuals. Perhaps you seek a single partner, or maybe you desire a romantic connection while also yearning for one or two other “ride or die” companions, with one of them being a . There exist numerous configurations. Partnership is a model that resonates with many individuals, but even then, I believe there is room to contemplate the individuals closest to us.

Relationships can manifest in diverse forms, and even within a partnership involving one person, there is space for additional close relationships. Acknowledging that the individual you cohabit with, raise children with, and make decisions alongside need not be the same person can foster deeper connections, whether in partnerships or close friendships.